Democratic candidate for Treasurer
Responses to our questions
Compare and contrast: Why should voters elect you and not your opponent? Your campaign materials explain your general qualifications for office, so you needn't repeat that information. We're instead asking you to help us do what voters must do - choose one candidate over the other.
While I believe that I have the right skill set to reinvent the office and bring new value to taxpayers as the Cook County Treasurer, it is unfortunate that very few people seek this office.
In a county of 5.25 million people, my opponent and I are the only people from either party to seek the office and that minimal interest is concerning when one considers that I am the first Democrat to run against my opponent for this office in 20 years.
The reason that this office has not been regularly and seriously sought is because it has not performed to a level that would routinely attract strong candidates. I am running to shake up an office that has not scratched the surface of its enormous potential to demonstrate how taxpayers should be treated and empowered.
I am not running to comfortably sit in office for the next 20 years. I am running to bring new value to taxpayers who routinely see their taxes rise without any additional value. I am running to bring increased efficiency to the function of the treasurer's office.
For example, the offices of treasurer and clerk should be examined for a potential merger. The projected merits and challenges that would result from merging the offices should be shared publicly and the measure to be placed on the ballot so voters can ultimately decide.
Due to the nature of its operation, the treasurer's office collects commercial user fees paid by banking and mortgage firms. The funds generated by those fees are expected to bring in more than $11.9 million this year and accounted for more than $11.6 million last year. During the critical budget hearings last fall, the treasurer boasted about reducing her budget by 25% without reducing staff, which can only mean her budget was bloated by 25% or more. The money from the commercial user fees paid to the taxpayer-funded treasurer's office was never offered back to the county to help with the budget crisis that cost 321 county employees their jobs on the same day as the treasurer's annual Christmas party.
If elected, I will implement an itemized taxpayer receipt that goes beyond the current property tax bill's limited breakdown that stops at the taxing district level. I will deposit county tax dollars into local financial institutions with a record of serving traditionally underserved areas, and I will work with the General Assembly to end the punitive practice of selling the tax debt of impoverished Illinoisans to private collectors who have no interest in the health of our communities.
Currently, a taxpayer who wants to see how their household is directly served by their property tax dollars has to assemble information from all layers of their respective taxing districts. In one place, taxpayers (renters and property owners) should see how many of their tax dollars went to their child's school, to the park near their home, to the police district that responds to emergencies, or to other hyper-local services and amenities. In other words, what residents are specifically getting for their rising taxes.
Our property tax bills should disclose the increase attributed to the existence of the county's hundreds of Tax Increment Financing districts (TIF) for those taxpayers whose property is not within a TIF. In 2016, Chicago's 145 TIFs absorbed $561 million of property tax dollars, so taxpayers had to fill the $561 million gap created by the existence of those TIFs.
Making a tax bill easy to understand and usefully transparent falls on the shoulders of the Treasurer, who is optimally positioned to empower people of all levels of education, income, and experience to better understand how their tax dollars, and the elected officials who allocate those tax dollars, align with their priorities.
I'll never have every good idea, so if fortunate enough to be elected, I will convene an independent, volunteer advisory panel with representation from organized labor, clean government advocates, community activists, academia and others groups representing large constituencies. The advisory panel's recommendations will be made public, so that should I not adopt one of their suggestions, the public will be aware and can ask me why.
I will work with the Illinois State Legislature to abolish the scavenger tax sale for residential properties. Rather than sell the tax debt of a resident to a private collector with likely no interest in the well-being of the property or its the neighborhood; I will propose tax-delinquent homes be transferred to Cook County Land Bank Authority, where they can be sold directly to a homeowner invested in the property and the community.
In those cases where a dutiful renter is at risk of being displaced by a landlord's tax delinquency, I will work to give the renter the first right of refusal to acquire the property. Currently, the treasurer's office uses a casino grade camera system mounted in the ceiling to surveil every employee and taxpayer in the office.
Employees and taxpayers do not know when they are being recorded or who is watching them. This camera system goes beyond what is appropriate and is an ongoing invasion of everyone's right to reasonable privacy in the workplace. Additionally, women who handle cash in the treasurer's office must wear a smock that covers their pockets out of suspicion that they will steal money. This practice is sexist and discriminatory because men in the same position do not have to wear the smock. No employee should be required to wear a garment as a mark of suspicion and distrust. If elected, I will eliminate both the excessive surveillance and the smocks.
There are very specific problems I want to help solve and the Treasurer's office is the most direct route to solving them. If fortunate enough to be elected, the best way to leave the office better than when I entered, is to make sure it is regularly attracting the most innovative and driven minds to run for it, which has not been the case for two decades.